44. THE GOOD EARTH, BY PEARL S. BUCK (Book 1 of House of Earth)
Another recommendation from Michelle on Goodreads. I guess this one would count as a “classic”, even though I didn’t know it when I started reading it (I borrowed a digital copy from the library, and they had listed it under “newly acquired”). Not the kind of thing I usually read, but that was exactly the purpose of the challenge and of asking for recommendations.
Synopsis: The book follows the life of Wang Lung from his marriage to his first wife to his death. He starts off as a poor farmer, who barely manages to subsist from his own land, and, after many occurrences (including the Boxer Rebellion), dies a rich man with many children and grandchildren.
Overall enjoyment: I liked it a lot. Like I said, it isn’t what I usually read, and the novelty was very welcome. It was written and structured in a particular way to match the culture and period the story is set, so it doesn’t feel aged when you read it. I particularly liked how she chose to center the story in a character that is actually just a random person, instead of telling the story of the Boxer Rebellion by mentioning the princes, diplomats, generals and the Empress.
Plot: The book is a saga, so what happens isn’t all that important. It is coherent and well made, very well coordinated with historical fact.
Characters: Wang Lung takes center stage, and all the other characters are described as how he sees them. They are good, solid characters, perfectly reflecting the culture and time period they are living in.
World/setting: China, during the Boxer Rebellion. Mostly rural, with a little bit of city thrown in. The historical portraying is, at least to me, very accurate; the story and the characters all reflect the society they live in.
Writing style: She uses a turn of phrase that resonates nicely with the setting of the book. It feels exotic and vintage, rather than aged and old-fashioned (like most of the “classic” books I’ve read). It’s quite pleasant to read, and enriches the tale.
Representation: Mostly Chinese people, of course. She also includes many female characters, even though the main character is male, and they take active part on the story.
Political correctness: There are many things that could be discussed in this particular point. The treatment of women (which is a subject very dear to my heart) to start with: in the story, they are all called “slaves”, bought and sold, and generally considered second-class people. That, however, is just the telling of how it used to be in that particular region and that particular period of time; as characters, you can see the care she has with them. She goes through great lengths to make O-lang, Lotus, Cuckoo, and so on, well-rounded people with their own motivations and characteristics. There is a subtle criticizing on the importance put on female beauty: O-lang, such a stout and tough woman who can take pretty much anything, only really gets hurt when people talk about her looks; Wang Lung, in spite of owing EVERYTHING HE FUCKING OWNS to O-lang, still can’t bring himself to love her because she’s not pretty enough. I also like how the characters don’t know and don’t care about the politics happening around them, they just want to live and get the things they wanted before. Finally, as soon as he has money, his family tries their very best to distance themselves from their “roots”, disregarding the labor that sustained and brought them up in the world as beneath them.
Up next: Picnic at Hanging Rock, by Joan Lindsay